A conversation about the post-literacy world at the RMG

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Story by Hillary Di Menna

Michael Ridley stands in the RMG (Photo: Stephanie Foden)

The alphabet may no longer be making the grade. Gutenberg’s press replaced storytelling, what will replace communication, as we understand it in a post-literacy world?
A SlowCity presentation, McLuhan Café was an event that rattled the mind. Chairs arranged in a circle at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, people sat and listened to Michael Ridley, a professor at the University of Guelph, Oshawa librarian and McLuhan enthusiast.
Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian professor of English literature and a media theorist. His work showed he predicted the Internet 30 years before it came to be. He died in 1980, but his work is still discussed.
Will McGuirk organized the event. At first he approached Oshawa librarian and artist Sally Grande. Grande is intrigued in a post-handwriting world and brought some of her personal collection for people to peruse at last night’s event. She ran a McLuhan group in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It was Grande who pointed McGuirk to Ridley. “She’s the instigator,” Ridley laughed during an interview before the lecture.
Ridley quoted McLuhan in the discussion, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”
He spoke of a world that didn’t require the written word to communicate a message. Whether it is telepathy, sensors or pills, Ridley believes there is a more efficient way to get a message across.
He compared the post-literary world to Star Trek’s the Borg as an example of our potential future society, an assimilated group.
Yet not all creativity and trained skills would be lost. Someone would still have to think of a specific movie shot, as one filmmaker in the group used as an example, but they wouldn’t have to physically create that shot, it would be able to be sent to the minds of others.
As for skills, Ridley used the example of a “French pill.” After taking the pill one would know French, but would need to practice creating the sounds to properly speak French.
Ridley joked that this evolution would not be next Tuesday, but he believes it is in the near future.
For those uncomfortable with the transition, he used the example of Plato and other great Greek philosophers who were opposed to the written word. Plato preferred storytelling and said having stuff written and distributed would weaken people’s memories.
Yet the alphabet still came and the world survived. So over tea, coffee and the sounds of a keyboardist’s fingers at work in the background, the people in the room pondered Alphabet 2.0.

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